An ant can’t compete with an elephant. What is the Government doing to small farmers?

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

Here’s a fact. The majority of families in Samoa identify themselves as subsistent farmers. For all of them, their humble plantations, banana patch or vegetable garden is not only their source of daily sustenance – it is also their only income stream. 

In the absence of much-needed formal employment opportunities in this nation, this is what their survival depends upon. In essence, it’s their bread and butter. 

Today, the Government needs to be reminded once again, especially the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, that they need to do more to help these smallholder farmers. 

They must create a level playing field, where these small farmers have an opportunity to breathe and live a little. Allow them to grow, and feel that what they do, contributes to the development of Samoa. 

Allow them to enjoy the success of their hard labour, by giving them opportunities to earn a decent financial return from the work of their hands.

What we are seeing in Samoa today is extremely worrying. It cannot be ignored.

Ladies and gentlemen the rich are getting richer, while the poor are becoming even poorer. When it comes to agriculture, the small village farmers are being shunted to the side with their backs against the wall; there is little or no hope for them at all. 

Indeed, they work so hard for so very little. They toil day and night only to go to bed with tears, yearning for better opportunities.

Let me tell you a little story. Yesterday, I spoke with an elderly mother at the Fugalei market, who was selling her Chinese cabbages for $2 a bundle. They were big bundles too. 

“Shouldn’t that be at least $4 so you can make a decent return?” I asked.

“Well that’s what I want but I can’t. We have to try and lower our prices to sell our stuff, because all those big farmers are offering their cabbages at a cheaper rate at those supermarkets.”

She told me that another factor is the “Chinese farmers.” 

“Sometimes we try to sell our produce to the Chinese restaurants, but I’ve been told that they only take vegetables now from Chinese farmers. So we really have no choice. We either sell our cabbages cheaply or we let them rot at the farm.”

Now this was heartbreaking to hear. But it is the reality for many of our people today. And it’s not confined to vegetables. 

You take the bananas, taro, coconut and anything else and you will find it’s the same story.

We are talking about mothers, fathers and families, some of them the poorest of the poor in Samoa. Many of them lack the sort of education necessary to gain well-paid jobs, and because of that they obviously don’t have the financial muscle required, to scale up their operations to a level where they can make a lot of money. 

You see many of them are not farmers by choice. They have no other choice.

Whether they live in Savai’i, Upolu, Apolima or Manono, their lives depend on their subsistent farms. Their children’s education and food depends on the income from their banana patches, the taro they grow and whatever produce they can farm. Their contributions to their village, churches and their family fa’alavelave are funded from this revenue stream. 

How else can they survive given the current conditions?

It is daylight robbery to expect them to flourish, when they are competing against some of the richest people in Samoa, who are major commercial farmers with all the money, wealth and the resources in the world. Which is precisely what’s happening. 

These commercial operators are killing smallholder farmers. They have no chance in the world. It’s like expecting an ant to give an elephant a fair fight.

The saddest part is that from what we’ve seen, the Government seems to be favouring big commercial farmers by offering them more opportunities. On top of that, the rules appear to have been designed to allow this unfairness and inequality to exist. This is downright greed and it cannot continue.

Don’t you think it’s time the Government comes up with laws that would force commercial farming operators to focus on the international export market and leave the domestic market to small farmers? 

Looking at some of these commercial operators, they have got almost everything in Samoa. Can’t they leave something for others? 

Surely they don’t need it all.

What do you think? 

Have a productive Friday Samoa, God bless! 

© Samoa Observer 2016

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